Reactions to the gay donut have been memorable. “What makes it gay?” “Does it make you gay?” have been questions B has heard. Or else there’s silence from parents who’ve been obviously dragged over to the donut stand by their kids. One adult went through this whole self-talk, saying to himself, “It’s okay that it’s gay. It’s just a donut, right? It’s okay.”
And then there was that dangerous moment in Prospect Park one weekend when a guy started harassing them about the donuts being gay. “There was no rhyme or reason to what he was saying. He was just upset,” said Bethany Disque, 31, who goes by “B” and co-owns the donut business Bite with her cousin Sam. B decided to ignore the guy. He went away, eventually, but not before threatening to come back with a gun. “I’m a shoot you,” he said under his breath as he stormed off.
Bite, a mini-donut start-up business that launched in 2019, calls itself “home of the gay donut” and they sell their baked offerings across New York, including the Smorgasburg food market twice a week. They have a pop-up tent on Fridays on the Oculus Plaza at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. On Sundays they’re at Prospect Park. They are sensitive to food allergies and they have vegan options.
Bite also ships nationwide through their online website and they run a catering business, popular with corporate office parties. This past summer, during June Pride Month, Bite made over 50,000 gay donuts, catered more than 200 events in the city, and donated $5K to the Queer Food Foundation to support the Black queer and trans community facing food insecurity.
“I knew it was going to be difficult when I started,” B recounted one recent morning in the commercial kitchen space they rent in downtown Brooklyn. B knew the public visibility of a gay donut, decorated in rainbow icing and sprinkles, would be new for someone who identified as maybe “too quiet.”
“Not that I’m not proud, but I’m not out there-out there,” said B, who uses “all of the pronouns” and prefers to identify as “really gay” rather than “lesbian,” which they feel is too gender specific. All that said, B admitted, “I went to the Dyke March this summer and felt super dyke-y at that. The energy. The people — nipples out. It felt like that’s where I had to be.”
Despite these dangerous times in which Pride Flags are being vandalized and moms of nine are being murdered for displaying them in the windows of their small businesses and gay Black men are being fatally stabbed for voguing at a gas station, B insisted the gay donut is an important symbol of visibility and community.
“I’m not doing it for myself,” she insisted, “I’m doing it for everyone, for everyone who isn’t as fortunate as me and able to come out. We’re here for them.”
The donut business was completely accidental. As someone who studied jazz, tap, ballet and contemporary hip-hop at the University of Maryland, B thought they would end up teaching dance. But while working at SoulCycle, a friend, who was getting rid of a mini-donut press, asked B, “Want this?”
Up until then, the southern Maryland native didn’t do much baking. Sure, they had grown up with their cousin Sam, baking with their beloved Corvette-driving grandma Betty Jean. But B admitted that she didn’t have much of a sweet tooth and she found baking a little too specific with all of the precise measurements that went into a recipe.
“I’m more of a chip gal,” B said. “I like salty stuff.”
Making donuts was just a hobby. B made them for for coworkers and friends at SoulCycle, where they had been working since 2014. And then as word-of-mouth spread, B started receiving orders. B left a full-time job as a manager at the SoulCycle in Williamsburg in 2019 to turn the hobby into a business.
B’s Family pressed, “Are you sure this is the right thing you want to do?”
Friends were more encouraging, pointing out that starting your own business and working for yourself was what everyone wants to do.
Getting their cousin Sam, 32, who identifies as pansexual, to join as a business partner didn’t take much convincing. Sam, who had a degree in broadcast journalism from NYU, was back in Maryland doing real estate with her mom. “Real estate wasn’t making her happy,” B said.
Over time they’ve sorted out each other’s strengths and weaknesses. “We’re still working it out,” B admitted. But for now Sam heads all of the marketing and client-facing communications, while B takes on the logistics of making sure things work. “The money stuff we divide up,” B said. “I’ll do tax stuff. She’ll do the insurance.”
Still, B was thrilled with the idea of starting a queer-owned business. The chance to be visible and out-and-proud all year round instead of just one month out of the year has been important to them and to the larger LGBTQ community. B said the business just “leaned into it,” serving as a beacon for “owning who you are and not being afraid.”
B also aims to leverage her business to support the community by hiring queer youth who need jobs. Maeve Cheevers, 19, has been with Bite since June.
“I mostly help out in the kitchen,” Cheevers said. The Brooklyn native said she loves the work experience she’s getting and enjoys being involved in queer spaces.
Maya Egensteiner, 21, is a baking assistant who has been with Bite for a little over a year and was at a Friday Smorgasburg this past August. She recalled how one mom told her kids they could pick whatever donut they wanted except “you can’t have any from the top tray,” which is where the rainbow donuts are usually displayed.
It’s hard to see these kids — sometimes they’re non-binary or queer — but mostly they’re just kids, B said, “And they want the rainbow donuts because it’s colorful and bright. It’s heartbreaking when the parents get all weird about it.”
B said, “More often than not it’s positive rather than negative,” especially for a spot as widely visited as the World Trade Center, which sees tourists from across the globe.
Back at the kitchen in Brooklyn, where they’ve been renting for nearly a year, they started off one recent morning figuring out flavors and creating the colorful icing for their next batch, opting for summer notes, like, lemon kiwi, mango cherry, key lime, and, of course, the rainbow gay donut, which is always in season.